Mason, our Standard Poodle, died Friday night. We got him from his breeder when he was ten months old, and he was our dog until he died, just one month shy of his fifteenth birthday.
During his long life he survived inflammatory bowel disease, a paralyzed larynx, cancer and a couple bouts with pneumonia. We were pretty sure this last round of pneumonia would do him in, he’d lost an alarming amount of weight, and showed little interest in his food. It took him a long month to show signs of recovery.
Ironically, it was his renewed interest in food that killed him. Friday night he grew increasingly uncomfortable and unsettled. By midnight, it was clear something was wrong, and we suspected bloat, a condition in large breed dogs where excessive gas causes the intestines to twist and tighten, trapping the gas and causing expansion of the belly and ribcage. It requires immediate surgery to correct.
I took him to the emergency veterinarian, and they confirmed the condition. We chose not to put him through the surgery and the long recovery, an ordeal he would not likely have survived, and which would have extended his helplessness, pain, and misery.
They gave him a sedative for the pain, and I got to visit with him for a little while. He couldn’t lift his head, but his eyes were open, and his tail wagged a little. I’d always imagined whispering to him in his last moments that he was good dog, but he’d lost most of his hearing the last few years, so I rubbed his ears instead, which is what Poodles love best. I cried a lot, and worried that I was upsetting him, so I asked the doctor in to end it. I was there when he died, I caressed him, and I cried some more. After it was over the doctor told me I could stay as long as I liked, but Mason wasn’t in there anymore, so I took his collar and went home to my family, to grieve with them. That was 2:00 am Saturday morning.
He spent his whole life with us, and fifteen years is a long time for a big dog to live. He came to us as a crazy, energetic puppy, always running and chasing, hunting bunnies and squirrels. He never caught one, but not for lack of trying. His favorite game was chase, usually started as an attempt to get him to play fetch, transformed by his preference for keep-away. He got so excited when people came to visit, we had to train him to put a toy in his mouth so he wouldn’t nip. I don’t think I noticed when he got old enough that he stopped doing that, and it stopped being a problem. It just did. He never suffered separation anxiety, but when we were home he liked being near us. He’d follow us around the house, settling where we settled, even after he’d grown old enough that stairs were more than an inconvenience to him. In the last months, we would carry him down to be with us while we watched TV, then carry him back up. Bloat may have done the deed, but old age is what killed him.
It seems like he’s been with us for everything that’s been significant in our lives. He was our first child. He was there when our first son demoted him back to dog. And he was still there when our second son demoted him even further, and when our second dog put him in his place. He lived in every house we owned. He went camping and canoeing with us. He visited grandparents and friends, from Minneapolis to Wichita. He was in a family reunion photo four generations deep. He was our family before we had a family. And he was part of our family when we did.
I loved him.
He was a good dog, even if he couldn’t hear me say so.
He can run and play and chase like he used to now, in our hearts and minds.